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Hope, fear mark countdown to Mettur dam opening

G. Sathyamoorthi
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A view of the Grand Anicut.— PHOTO: M. SRINATH
A view of the Grand Anicut.— PHOTO: M. SRINATH

: It is a mix of hope and fear as D-Day draws near for delta farmers.

With the Mettur Dam set to be opened for delta irrigation on Monday, after a delay of three months (the scheduled date is June 12), farmer leaders are unanimous that they are at the mercy of the nature. They want rain but without flooding, a normal phenomenon during the northeast monsoon which normally sets in by the second week of October.

Of course, Mannargudi S. Ranganathan and Mahadhanapuram V. Rajaram, general secretary and working president of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association (CDFWA) respectively, assert: “We are on a safe wicket and the water release won’t go waste.” However Aarupathy P. Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of Farmers’ Associations of the Delta Districts, and V. Duraimanickam, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Kisan Sabha, are extremely apprehensive about the coverage and also the yield this year.

Mr. Ranganathan calls for a “judicious management of available water” as direct sowing needs only wetting, whereas community nurseries need irrigation.

“This should be properly blended and it is possible only if the Agriculture Department coordinates with the farmers.”

Mr. Rajaram observes that Karnataka would have to release water to Mettur Dam because its reservoirs would not be able to hold any more.

For example, the CDFWA office-bearers point out that when Karnataka announced in September last year that it had no water to spare, “just in a matter of hours the inflow into Mettur Dam was 62,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) and in just five days – from September 6 to 10 – the dam level shot up from 63 ft to 97 ft.”

Even during the northeast monsoon, Karnataka had good rains last year which resulted in release of 23,000 cusecs to 28,000 cusecs. “Mettur Dam surplussed in October,” they say. “But our major responsibility is to ensure the safety of the crops between now and the onset of the northeast monsoon,” they add.

Mr. Kalyanam, who says it is 70 per cent risky to undertake cultivation now, contends that whenever water is released in September and October, both the coverage and yield have been very poor. In the last two decades, it was only twice that Mettur Dam had to be opened in September and October.

For instance, in 2002 water was released on September 19. Then the total coverage (kuruvai, samba, thaladi put together) was only 3.69 lakh hectares in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts and the yield was 9.94 lakh tonnes. Similarly, in 2003, water was released only on October 7.

The coverage was only 3.56 lakh hectares and the yield was 11.03 lakh tonnes.

Whereas in a normal year like 2006, when water was released on June 12, the coverage was 5.26 lakh hectares and the yield was 31.88 lakh MT. “Thus whenever water is released late, the yield has been just one third,” he contends.

He also wonders how lakhs of farmers can find labourers in less than a month as 50 per cent of the labourers have already taken up other avocations. “We require a minimum of 15 labourers per acre.” Besides, it is not possible to complete transplantation before September 30.”

Mr. Duraimanickam, who is equally sceptical of a good samba crop, opines that at least 10,000 cusecs should be released for the water to reach the tail end as the entire course is so parched. The available storage would not last more than three weeks if Karnataka were to stick to its stand of “no supply. I cannot confidently say that the water release is going to be beneficial for delta irrigation.”

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